Lessons on Leadership

As a leader in Canadian sport, I have had the opportunity to experience many moments of greatness. Many of these early moments are related to my involvement in Olympic Games where I worked as a media attaché and press chief in support of our Canadian teams.

More recently and closer to home, I have spent most of my time leading through sport in my own backyard. Working as a community coach has provided me with countless opportunities to make a difference, change lives, and inspire greatness. I just didn’t fully realize it until now.

Two weeks ago I spent 10 days in Nicaragua with six teenage athletes and their parents, many of whom I’ve coached for years. Our mission was simple. To build a school for a charity called SchoolBOX. SchoolBOX believes in making education possible for all children in Nicaragua and works with Canadian groups, such as ours, to support their vision. As a coach, I’ve always believed that sport’s greatest lessons extended far beyond the playing field. As a True Sport champion I know this to be true and have actively worked to instill the seven principles of True Sport with all the teams I’ve coached. These principles have served me well as I strive to create an experience that holds all seven principles in balance, encouraging my athletes to Go for It, Play Fair, Respect Others, Stay Healthy, Include Everyone, Keep it Fun and Give Back.

Upon my return from this life changing experience, I was deeply touched when my athletes gathered around me after having just won a silver medal at a two-day local tournament, and presented me with a beautifully decorated poster filled with pictures of our time in Nicaragua and words of gratitude that touched me profoundly. What struck me are how many times the girls recognized my ‘warmth’ and ‘positivity’ as being traits they appreciated in me. So imagine my interest in a recent article written that suggests that warmth is the critical ingredient in effective leadership and when combined with strength, leaders can command respect, trust, and admiration from those they mentor.

“Connect, Then Lead” in the July-August 2013 edition of the Harvard Business Review, was written by Amy Cuddy, Matthew Kohut and John Neffinger. You can click on it here: http://hbr.org/2013/07/connect-then-lead/ar/5. The authors spent time researching the topic of influence in the workplace and hypothesize that there is room for both warmth and strength in today’s most effective leaders. In fact, they argue that being perceived as warm and caring may lead to greater influence than being perceived as authoritative and competent. The authors point to research that concludes that “…the way to influence—and to lead—is to begin with warmth.” They explain that by leading with warmth, leaders convey their interest in and understanding of their peers. And although you may believe that leading with your knowledge and competence is the best way to gain respect, this new research says you might be wrong.

The authors say that when we put our proven competence out front or wear our technical prowess on our sleeves, co-workers may “comply outwardly” with our wishes and commands, but never really accept or buy into the values and goals behind our directives.

So moving forward, I encourage sport leaders to be mindful of a few things as they look to expand their leadership capacity, demonstrating care and concern for those they are mentoring. The tips I’ve suggested may seem awkward at first, but they will soon become embodied. Being calm and confident helps you act in ways that reflect and express your values and priorities. As the authors’ state: “Once you establish your warmth, your strength is received as a welcome reassurance. Your leadership becomes not a threat but a gift.”

Tip 1: Walk the talk with respect to your values. If you do what you say, people will trust you. And trust is the cornerstone of every positive relationship.

Tip 2: Demonstrate sincere appreciation. Research has proven that people will go to the wall for those they admire. When this is rewarded and recognized, people feel validated and in return want to continue performing.

Tip 3: Smile. Show your pleasure by flashing your pearly whites more often. It lets people know you are genuinely pleased with being in their presence.

Tip 4: Be mindful of your non verbal cues. Stand tall, with your shoulder back and your chin up. Place one foot slightly in front of the other so you are creating an inviting stance when dialoguing with people. Keep your arms loose and open; avoid crossing them in front of you.

Tip 5: Share personal stories. That lets people know a bit more about you and also lets them know you trust them enough to share something personal.

As with any new practice, it can take time to fully embody. Be patient with yourself. Remember though that “if you want to effectively lead others, you have to get the warmth-competence dynamic right. Projecting both traits at once is difficult, but the two can be mutually reinforcing—and the rewards substantial. Earning the trust and appreciation of those around you feels good. Feeling in command of a situation does, too. Doing both lets you influence people more effectively.”

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